Temba Bavuma: I want to take South Africa back to the top
South Africa’s white-ball captain discusses being offered the job, focusing on his batting and the Betway ODI series against India.
It all happened very quickly for Temba Bavuma.
When Faf du Plessis stepped away from the South Africa captaincy in early 2021, Quinton de Kock was handed the reins in all three formats.
And, although the Test captaincy always seemed likely to be a short-term arrangement for De Kock, there was little reason to believe that the limited-overs job might be up for grabs.
That was until March, when Bavuma was suddenly made skipper of both the Proteas’ 50-over and T20 sides. The Proteas weren't considered among the favourites in the cricket betting for a T20 World Cup later that year.
“It wasn’t something that I was expecting,” Bavuma says. “There was obviously anxiety and fear as to how I was going to take the team forward to new heights.
“The journey is still young with the white-ball teams, I must say. But I’ve enjoyed it so far.”
The appointment was historic as Bavuma became the first ever black captain of a South Africa cricket team.
The reason for his appointment, though, was due to his experience within the setup and close relationship with several of his team-mates.
“I was fortunate in that most of the guys, especially the senior guys, I’ve played with from school level,” he says. “We understand each other and, most importantly, the respect is there.
“I spend a lot of time with KG [Rabada] on and off the field. Shamo [Tabraiz Shamsi] and Quinton [de Kock], too. These are important players to have good relationships with as a captain.
“We’re fortunate that we have several legends of the past who I can call upon, too. JP Duminy was in the T20 management camp and he added to the brains of the team. He has a great brain and I bounced ideas off him.”
But, perhaps more important than any of that, is the ability to stamp his own authority on a team that he didn’t expect to inherit.
“The better you know yourself, the less likely you are to be affected by what other people say about you,” Bavuma says.
“I pride myself in being honest, understanding where I can improve but also not losing focus from taking the team forward.”
There have been clear signs of progress – particularly in the T20 format – during his first 10 months in the job.
A 3-2 win away to then-world champions West Indies was followed by comprehensive 3-0 series victories in both Ireland and Sri Lanka, which set South Africa up nicely for their under-the-radar success at the T20 World Cup.
Despite failing to make it out of the Super 12 stage at that tournament, they did win four of their five matches, which would usually have been enough to see them bank a semi-final spot.
Results came quickly, but managing to combine the captaincy with his day job of scoring runs took Bavuma a little longer.
After a run of four single-figure scores in five innings against West Indies and Ireland, he eventually found his feet in the middle-order during the World Cup, scoring 91 runs at an average of over 30.
“It can be a challenge to combine the two, but you have to make sure that you’re mentally fresh,” he says. “The captaincy can clutter your mind. It can be easy to play the game in your head and you don’t want that.
“I like to put the hard work in a few days out from the game. If you’re playing on a Friday, I’ll put the work in on Monday or Tuesday. And then the closer you get to the game, you focus more on the mental side.
“It’s so important to be clear with your plans and clear with what you want to do. Then anything else can just be discarded.”
Having a clear mind is crucial, particularly as a batter who doesn’t possess the same power game that many of the world’s best white-ball cricketers do nowadays.
Bavuma has to be confident that, as a timer and manipulator of the ball, he is comfortable with his role in the side and is not blocking the power batters from occupying the crease during crucial periods.
As captain, that clarity in thinking becomes even more crucial.
“My skillset is not the same as a guy who comes in at the back of the innings, like David Miller,” he says.
“David generally has to be able to hit sixes from ball one. That isn’t my role in the side – I know what my strengths are.”
Bavuma admits that he follows the example set by one of the greatest ever South African batters.
“I take a lot of inspiration from Hashim Amla,” he says. “When he first came into the system he wasn’t considered a classic T20 player but he was able to adapt his game.”
Focus now switches to the white-ball leg of India’s tour following an enthralling 2-1 Test series victory that saw Bavuma help guide South Africa home in both successful run chases.
His first home series as ODI captain was last April against Pakistan, but Bavuma says that this feels like the true beginning of his era on home soil.
Taking on a side with such pedigree will mean that there is no need for rousing team-talks in the days leading up to the series.
“The guys don’t need any more motivation,” Bavuma says. “You’re coming up against a team like India.
“We’re desperate to build on that Test series win because India have generally had the better of us in recent years. They’ve got some of the best players on the planet who are likely to go well in all conditions.
“We understand the cricketing rivalry between the sides. These are series you want to be involved in and opponents you want to test yourselves against.
“We want to continue the journey towards being considered among the world’s best again.”
With results improving so quickly under Bavuma’s watch, this series gives them the chance to prove that they may already achieved it.